Talking Sport: Pompey, Southampton and Seagulls should be grateful to each other

The Championship has long been labelled one of the most unpredictable divisions in the world, but there has been a crushing inevitability about the starts made by the two southern teams promoted from League One last season, writes Craig Peters.

Whether they are maintaining momentum or simply rejuvenated by a fresh start, second-tier football has so far been made to look relatively easy by Brighton and, more so, of course, by Southampton, who sit five points clear at the top and six points clear of that ever-important first play-off spot.

A change in trend is clearly occurring. Football in the south is back on the rise. And it has to be – for the sake of future generations playing the beautiful game in our region.

Since Pompey’s relegation to the Championship the south’s presence in the top tier of English football has obviously been lacking, with the most southerly clubs now Chelsea and Fulham.

While the heavyweights of the north-west clubs continue to battle it out against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, the geographic statistics in the Premier League currently make for depressing reading if you are fan, follower or indeed player of Brighton, Southampton or Pompey.

Six clubs in the Premier League are from the north-west, there’s one from Wales, one from East Anglia, two from the north-east; five from London and four from the midlands.

But let’s look at the positives, firstly with Southampton. I, for one, am surprised at the terrific season they are having thus far, especially after selling one of their prized assets in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal. Eight home games played, eight wins and just five goals conceded.

Nigel Adkins rarely tasted the right end of the Championship during his time with Scunthorpe United but the former physiotherapist showed tremendous potential in his first managerial job and rightly saw the vacancy at Southampton, then a division below the Iron, as a greater opportunity to fulfill his ambitions in the game.

He’s got this Southampton side playing an attractive brand of football that is not just pleasing on the eye, but also sweeping their opponents aside with an almost arrogant ease. The Oxlade-Chamberlain money is now simply looking like cold, hard cash – bonus money if you will – given the way they have played against most clubs this season.

This wasn’t necessarily a Championship club losing their most important player, a blow from which they would have to recover as per previous sales such as Bale and Walcott. It is a shame that Saints fans will not get to see their latest Academy product take to the field wearing red-and-white stripes for years to come, but they’ll be used to that now.

Southampton have already demonstrated they have more than enough talent in their squad to sustain a promotion challenge this season. The big question is whether any of that £12m will be heading back out into the market when the transfer window opens in January.

Any potential recruits have a standard to meet – the likes of Jose Fonte, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert have already helped set the bar high in that respect.

And what about Brighton – let’s make no mistake about it, another local club seriously on the rise? How can you doubt that statement? They are sitting tenth in the Championship, have an in-demand manager, sought-after players, and fill their brand-new state-of-the-art stadium to the rafters every week. They probably won’t go up this year; yet they certainly won’t go down.

But the future is more than bright for a club that almost didn’t exist back in 1997. Gus Poyet has a long-term plan – to stabilise the team, ensure it can compete and become established in the Championship, before pushing on to the next level a la Swansea City.

And this is another club who play good attractive football. Any youngster in the south going along to watch our clubs are right now being treated to exactly how the game should be played, and this can only be good for the standard of youngsters being introduced to the game across our southern regions.

Brighton fans should enjoy the ride. The stadium alone is cause for much celebration, but it doesn’t guarantee promotion. It will come when the time is right. Of all the supporters of all the clubs in the top four divisions, I can’t think of any others who have been through what Brighton’s fans have experienced.

And I should know; I’m one of them, and played for the youth team in the dark days of ground sharing with Gillingham.

On to Pompey, and many Pompey fans might wonder what they have to be optimistic about at this point. The first thing you should, well, certainly be grateful for – as ludicrous it may sound – is Southampton.

Having sat firmly at the top of the footballing perch in the south when in the Premier League, gazing down on both Brighton and Southampton in League One, Pompey have declined both on and off the pitch.

But what greater motivation do you need to get back to where you once were than seeing your arch rivals sitting top of the Championship, sneering at you like the cat that’s got the cream? All three clubs need one another, like competitive and squabbling siblings egging each other on.

Pompey have also just appointed 35-year old Michael Appleton as their new manager. Who, I hear some of you whisper awkwardly? Appleton’s appointment alone is more than reason to be optimistic about the future of your club.

Part of Roberto Di Matteo’s backroom staff at West Brom, he has soaked up his former gaffer’s passing philosophy, meaning another club on the South coast is likely to abandon the Sam Allardyce kick-and-rush style.

His appointment also follows the trend of appointing a young manager, such Andre Villas-Boas (33) at Chelsea and former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, who was just 29 when he took over the Cherries.

Appleton’s appointment sends out a message that this is a club now looking to build and restructure, and given Pompey’s recent unpredictable nature both on and off the field, this should be something which pleases the club’s fans and investors.

Forget the sleeping giants of Southampton and Brighton finally waking from their slumber; let’s focus on the sleeping giant of football in the south.

It means more than just having a few decent footballs clubs. It brings a positive impact to our local economies. It means people are talking about our regions and clubs again. There is a buzz in the media, both online and in the newspapers. Fans of all the southern clubs and engaging on Twitter.

And vitally, the clubs are now an attraction to the younger generations of local football fans who are now more likely to support their local team rather than donning a Manchester United or Liverpool kit because they ‘are the best’.

The evidence is there for all to see when you witness the new breed of supporter filling Brighton’s new Amex stadium. All we need now is for Bournemouth to start climbing that League One table.

But the future’s bright; the future’s football for us living in the south

I mourn the demise of local newspapers

Local newspapers were among the first victims of the global recession with major job losses, pay freezes and even closures in some unfortunate cases.

And yet there still doesn’t seem to be any light in that long, dark tunnel.

There is a lot to love about the local press. Reading about a prize winning leek being grown at the allotments down the road; checking out the names of those arrested for being drunk and disorderly down the local brewery; what cats and dogs got rescued by our local animal rescue service; and the best part, the embarrassing photos of those who were celebrating birthdays that week, sent in by loved ones and relatives.

But the best thing about local newspapers? The fact that it demonstrates camaraderie, and celebrates everything that is great and good about towns, villages, and indeed the larger cities across what is our, Great Britain.

It puts normal people in the spotlight – and you know what – usually from a positive point of view too. Rather than picking up a red-top and reading the headlines about celebrities struggling with their drug addiction or high profile divorces cases, we are really hearing about prize winning leeks. I was part of a local street party a couple of years back. Third page. It was, unbelievably, on the third page. And when I say page, I mean the whole page. A positive story which genuinely made me feel great about the area in which I live. As if we live in a bubble and no other area counts or even exists – it’s just us.

Looking through my old press cuttings I also see that I won a colouring-in competition when I was eight-years’ old and was presented with my prize by pianist Russ Conway. I was given a TSB Bank Piggy Bank. I had my photo taken with Russ and the branch manager and was given half a page. Little old me at eight-years old had coloured some numbers in and got a half-page spread. (*note to self: ensure this is included in all PR strategies for clients. Must take part in colouring-in competitions)

I can also bet that are certain demographics that live for reading their local rag, namely the 50+ age bracket. Tucked away between their reclining leather seat and the whisky cabinet, the newspaper will be read from cover to cover, again, searching for any mere mentions of friends and family or former colleagues.

But reading it from cover to cover is no longer possible. Being hit the way it has, local newspapers are seemingly on their knees, clasping its hands as it looks up and begs for its unique editorial quality to remain intact amid possible cost reductions.

As an example, I read that in the North West, 43 journalist jobs were going at Trinity Newspapers on Merseyside. Publishers of the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post; the Guardian Media Group, publishers of the Manchester Evening News, have all closed local newspaper offices all over Greater Manchester and the Newsquest-owned Bury Times is now being moved to Bolton. Imagine that. That’s like the London Evening Standard being moved to Bournemouth.

And all this comes when many have long bemoaned the apparent lack of commitment to in-depth reporting from newspapers which seem “obsessed with celebrity and short-termism”.

Let’s not forget the role that the rise of social media has played in this. (Let’s get this out of the way now; as a PR practitioner, I am all for the social media revolution. I am merely stating the facts, as good journalists do….)

Print journalists are under mounting pressure to master the skills of podcasting, blogs and video-making for YouTube, as their newspaper’s editorial activity effectively shifts on to the internet. And the result of this? Sales figures of the hard copy of the newspaper dwindles. Why? Because the content of the hard copy newspaper has subsequently disappeared. Literally. It has gone and been replaced with a full-page advert of a local window cleaning company. And there’s another one; this time of my local hairdressers with an eighties looking photo of a hairstyle which resemble pop-band Bros.

But the poor old newspapers don’t have a choice. And it goes without saying the staff can all but sit and watch and get on with their jobs. Without this advertising revenue, they would simply die this long painful death, and a whole host of wonderful and talented reporters will be put on the shelf for a while. Depressing.

Regional newspapers are also a vital tool for the smaller, local charities to promote events and raise funding. Something that is out of their reach in the nationals and charity trade press. Without this platform they also struggle. They need regional newspapers desperately. We all do.

And let’s look at the older generation again. Those, who perhaps aren’t computer savvy, are unable to get to grips with the internet and therefore can’t (or don’t want to) read their newspaper online. They want the newspaper in their hands. Just in the way a cup of tea can make everything seem alright and solve the world’s humanitarian problems, the same can be said about having a newspaper clasped under your arm as you walk home from the shop. But they want content, not adverts. It’s a horrible catch-22 predicament.

I wish there was a solution. With many friends working at local newspapers I can only sit back and applaud you and your colleagues for the fantastic reports you continue to publish. Reports which make us all feel good about, and appreciate where we live and the communities around us. Thank you for promoting our community spirit. Just, thank you.

Osprey PR Highly Commended for Micro Business of the Year at Adur & Worthing Business Awards 2011

Craig Peters of Osprey PR at Adur & Worthing Business Awards
Last weekend, October 8th, we were lucky enough to be highly commended for the Micro Business of the Year Award at the Adur & Worthing Business Awards. Having set up the business with nothing, no clients, no office and certainly no money in July 2010, I am over the moon that the blood, sweat and tears which went into setting up Osprey have been recognised so quickly.

At Osprey, we care about the reputations of our clients, and in these continued times of austerity, never before has a reputation meant so much, to so many. The public need to trust businesses; organisations and brands and it’s up to us, as experienced PR practitioners, to manage this and guide our clients towards a path which will put them directly in front of their customers and decision makers. A positive reputation directly and indirectly increases the perceived value of a product. It increases product awareness, signals quality, and instills confidence among buyers. A reputation and brand can even invoke a deep emotional response. In addition to these direct effects, a reputation enhances a company’s ability to attract other resources that have an important bearing on customer value. For instance, a reputation affects a company’s success with recruiting talent and forming relationships with key suppliers and partners, which in turn affect product development, manufacturing, distribution, and so forth – i.e., the key elements that ultimately drive customer value.

Back to the awards; what I loved most was witnessing the camaraderie and spirit shown amongst businesses of all shapes and sizes. With Mervyn King predicting more doom and gloom in 2012, local award celebrations have become even more important. Whilst I am over the moon for Osprey (and yes, myself!), I have to applaud those in attendance not just at the Adur & Worthing Business Awards, but across all regions in the UK.

Give yourselves a good pat on the back and make sure you’re there again next year. Enjoy the snazzy photo of me too…

Why Harry Redknapp is the wrong choice for England…

And how it highlights a worrying, longer-term problem for the national side…

As the reverberations now ease following the slamming shut of the transfer window door, clubs are now concentrating on what they do best – playing football and entertaining the fans who continue to watch and support in their millions.

Thoughts turn to who will run Manchester United closest this year in the Premier League; who the surprise package will be, how well will Manchester City really do, and which two teams will battle it out in May in Munich’s Allianz Arena for Europe’s most coveted prize – the Champions League.

That’s until December 31st at least…

But this season is different. Let’s talk about the England national side for a moment. As usual, when a major tournament is just around the corner, both fans, the media and indeed the players themselves are pondering on whether this will be England’s time – heaping further pressure on a footballing nation who has experienced nothing but heartbreak and disappointment since 1966.

But whilst we can all but hope and pray, there is indeed another guessing game that footballing fans are playing; who is going to be the next England manager post Euro 2012?

It is unusual circumstances. Since the start of the disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa 2010, we have all known the Fabio Capello will remain at the helm until the end of the tournament in Poland and Ukraine. Some are arguing that this adds a bit of stability – some are suggesting that he should have gone long beforehand and this was a novice mistake made by the FA considering the size of his annual wage.

So who’s the obvious of choice to take over from Capello…? Harry Redknapp of course.

Sure, he really is the obvious choice. There is no doubting that Harry can get the best out of his players. He enjoys being out there on the training ground on a day-to-day basis and there’s no arguing that he is a magician in the transfer market – spotting bargains like an excitable Winona Ryder in a retail store. The interviews with Redknapp on Sky Sports during transfer deadline day are often entertaining, as his mobile phone rings midway through interviews and leaves us guessing who’s on the end of the line when really it’s Kevin Bond asking if he can have another lift home. He also keeps teams up – steering them away from the relegation zone when times looked so desperate.

However, Harry won’t be able to enjoy any of this if he takes the England job. Gone will be his unflappable enthusiasm on transfer deals; gone will be his day-to-day running of the team; gone will be the enjoyment of bantering with the players on the training ground. He will be lost. Instead he will be handling approximately 10 games a year and will be prostituted about to various television studios to cover Premier League games (as he watches in envy I’m sure).

In a word, I think Redknapp will find managing England ‘boring’. And I think this will translate onto the pitch before he can say: “I love the BBC”.

Because of his roguish cockney demeanour, many people hang on his every word as if he represents us – the common England fan. And let’s be honest – really honest – does Redknapp boast the tactics which will overcome the skill and inventiveness of a top Spanish or German side should we meet these in any forthcoming fixture? I think not. However, unfortunately, I don’t think anyone else who is possibly lined up to manage England does either given that names such as Sam Allardyce and Steve Bruce have been thrown into the mix in recent years. Two managers who have seen their stock shrink over the past 18 months or so.

England and English football is currently undergoing a radical transitional period – and an exciting one at that. A new breed of young talent is coming through who are yet to be polluted by the pressure tolled on the likes of Lampard, Ferdinand et all over the past ten-years. Phil Jones; Ashley Young; Chris Smalling; Joe Hart and a revitalised Wayne Rooney all bring with them a fresh, new energy (ignore the Wales game) which has been lacking in the England national side.

The last thing they need is a manager who comes into it knowing that this will probably be his last job and on extortionate wages. It is not good for morale.

Instead the FA really needs to open its eyes and take a look at what’s going on in football right now. A new breed of younger manager is introducing itself to the main stage. A manager who stands on the side-lines in a trendy grey suit and black tie straight out of a Gap advert. A manager who refuses to sit down during the game and plays every tackle, pass and shot with his players. A manager who can relate to and understand each member of his squad from both a personal and professional point of view. A PR skilled manager who is comfortable in front of the cameras and importantly, his harshest critics. A fault which was evident in Steve McClaren.
Pep Guardiola; Andre Villas-Boas; Roberto Di Matteo and of course Jose Mourinho. Three managers who started their managerial careers in their early to mid-thirties. The first two have both already won European trophies whilst Di Matteo – as unfortunate as he was to be sacked from West Brom – showed signs of a fantastic manager who played football in the right manner and is now the Assistant to Villas-Boas at Chelsea. Mourinho was 36 when took over at Benfica in 2000 and was 40 when he started his successful period with Porto. But let’s remember – he was also learning his managerial trade even earlier than that as the late Sir Bobby Robson’s understudy at Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon.

So in regards to the England mangers job; who is there?

The FA has promised that the next manager will be English. But if the FA appoints Redknapp it will once again be another sideways step for English football rather than the dose of progression and bright energy which our footballing nation requires. Five minutes of renewed optimism will soon be swamped by the inevitable murmurs of discontent and calls for a new manager and changes at the top. Whilst Spain still boasts an older managerial team, let’s not forget over half of that squad play under Guardiola at Barcelona and he is no doubt being groomed to one day taking over the Spanish national side.

Joachim Low was also just 42 when he hit the German national scene as Assistant Manager before, as the boss himself, introducing a new vibrant young team which swept England aside at last year’s World Cup.

If I was to look into my crystal ball and predict a current Premier League player who will don his managerial cap and one day boss England, motivate his players and show what it means to play for your country then that person will be Jamie Carragher. At 33 he is the same age as Villas-Boas.

People will argue that he was quick to throw in the towel on his international playing career but I just wonder how tempted Jamie would be if the FA came calling in a year or two with a complete blank canvas and said “Jamie, just go for it…”?

I suspect the likes of Jones; Young and Rooney for sure will see this as a positive move and this will surely put an exclamation point on this exciting new era.

Would the FA dare to be so bold…? No doubt they will just go for the “safe” option.

Why the AMEX Community Stadium is more than just a football ground…

In 1986 on a wintery, snowy Saturday afternoon, my Dad took me to watch Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Derby County in what was then Division Two (now The Championship).Albion’s home, The Goldstone Ground, was 95-years old and had acted as host to my Dad and co. for approximately 25-years. However, he was keen to share his love and passion for the club with me at an early age. As a five-year old I was already keenly trying to understand what my Dad meant when he kept singing; “He shot, he scored, it must be Peter Ward…”

Standing on my little wooden stool on the East Terrace, we were open to the elements. Covered in snow and shivering to the bone – and typically, the game ended in a drab 0-0 draw with my only memory being of a fellowAlbionfan telling me to stamp my feet on the ground to warm up. However, my instant love for theAlbion, and football of course, wasn’t to be diminished by the weather and lack of goals and entertainment. For me already, this was what football was all about: Camaraderie.

For a further eleven-years, I was at every Albion home game with Dad tucked up in the claustrophobic North East Terrace, and witnessed several promotions and relegations with a heart-breaking play-off loss to Neil Warnock’sNottsCountysandwiched in between – and yes, I did cry. I was ten for Pete’s sake. Players and managers alike came and went – and talented ones at that. From the wonderfully gifted John Byrne to the return ofAlbionlegend Steve Foster to, err, Robert Codner…

I have several long-lasting memories of the Goldstone. The home leg against Millwall in the play-off final in 1991; Dean Wilkins’ last minute free-kick against Ipswich to secure that very play-off spot; Fans United Day against Hartlepool, and of course the infamous final home match of 1995/6 against York City which was abandoned after 15 minutes after protesting fans invaded the pitch in an attempt to highlight their frustrations and anger towards two men who I will discuss shortly.

I even ended up playing for The Albion. Lined-up in the same youth team as Gareth Barry, who now earns over £100,000 a week (I’m not bitter…), and playing against the likes of Joe Cole, Scott Parker and Titus Bramble. The pride and honour of wearing the blue and white stripes was beyond memorable and I will never forget my Dad’s face when I came home after beating Crystal Palace Youth Team away.

However in 1997, a year afterEnglandhad hosted Euro96 and the nation was predictably over-optimistic about the upcoming World Cup inFrancea year later, asAlbionfans, we simply couldn’t revel in this new-found sanguinity. Our club was set to be without a home – a home that had hosted so many joyous memories for thousands of people – men, women, families and children. Our voices were loud, but couldn’t be heard by those who mattered. Two men, David Bellotti and Bill Archer and their consortium had sold more than just a ground – they had stolen the soul from the city of Brighton & Hove. And its people were mentally exhausted with fighting them. For 14 long years, we had been waiting for that catastrophic decision to sell the Goldstone Ground to be rectified. No club in the history of the game has ever gone through what Brighton & Hove Albion FC and its fans have experienced.

I was there for the final game againstDoncasterand, as we all breathed a huge collective sigh of relief that we moved away from the abyss of non-league football, stark realisation that this was no longer our home kicked in. No, the ground wasn’t glamorous – but it was our home. My daughter and generations to come will never know what the nowGoldstoneRetailParkused to host. And despite much explanation and displays of photos, they will never really understand too. It’s just yet another shopping centre to them.

So via Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium,Albionset up home at the Withdean Athletics Stadium and the long goodbye to this running track at the end of the 2010/11 season was a party for fans and players who both enjoyed success on and off the pitch. It was as if they were finally laying to rest the ghost of Bellotti and Archer and the sale of the Goldstone, and celebrating the start of a new chapter for the city. When you look back to the last game at the Goldstone against Doncaster 14-years’ earlier then you realise the toilsome journeyAlbion’s fans have been on.

But my very long point is; I’m not alone. Not alone is sharing these frustrations; these memories; these celebrations and indeed a love for an organisation that is more than just a football club, but the heartbeat of our region.

Sitting at the Amex for the pre-season friendly against Tottenham, I was reading a sad double-page spread in the match-day programme. It had the names of all of those who are no longer with us; those who unfortunately aren’t here to saviourAlbion’s new home. Those who also fought in the battle to save the Goldstone and Brighton & Hove Albion. I too have lost someone dear to me; someone who I know would be sitting with me and Dad as we take to the Amex every other week if he were still here. It was this and the faces of those around me at the opening day of the Amex, which reignited something inside me. Not reinforced love for theAlbion; nor love for football; but a new appreciation of our society and how one, single football club can mean so much to so many, from all walks of live.

Twenty-thousand fans; so different, with a mixture of backgrounds, race, religions, hobbies and interests all share one common ground – The Albion. And that’s why The Amex is more than just a stadium to us.